Where young artists can leave their imprint

JUST east of the Los Angeles River and beyond the railroad tracks in Lincoln Heights, where postindustrial downtown gives way to the anachronistically industrial, a fat red demon hovers, smirking from the sign above a former auto repair shop. Welcome to La Mano Press, a puckish workshop space/publishing press/art gallery devoted to contemporary printmaking.

"There are very few spaces that showcase the work of younger [graphic artists]," explains Artemio Rodriguez, an artist who co-founded La Mano with Silvia Capistran in 2002, via e-mail from Mexico. "The few galleries that show prints go more for well-known artists or old works. We saw that there was a demand for prints. People want original art but can't afford paintings, so we decided to cover that gap."

The quasi-Valentine-themed exhibition "Love*Life*Lust," curated by La Mano's new director, 25-year-old Stephanie Mercado, looks to do just that.

The show's 20 artists come from across the United States -- most are from the L.A. area -- and many are still in their 20s and 30s. The works are wildly divergent; Mercado says she used La Mano's emphasis on the graphic arts as her only unifying aesthetic. And even then, allowances were made.

A healthy dose of humor runs throughout, as with Ana Rodriguez's bite-sized pastry paintings such as "Virgin Whore," a portrait of two cakes, one nibbled upon, one not; Courtney Oquist's retinue of surly yet dainty, big-eyed ingenues; and Sean Star Wars' anthropomorphic ice cream cones on a Bonnie-and-Clyde rampage in "Heist." More overtly sensual imagery lurks in Poli Marichal's surreal "Garden of Sweet Delights," a layered accumulation of candy-colored reduction prints into which the artist embeds strands of her hair to impart an organic texture.

But the theme was intentionally loosely interpreted. Armenian-born Minas Halaj, 26, is exhibiting four works, the most romantic of which -- "Tybias' Dream" -- typifies Halaj's finely wrought ink drawings. Shot through with tiny, detailed symbols, this portrait of two lovers shows a winged figure where the male suitor's heart would lie.

And though Artemio Rodriguez is in his hometown of Tacambaro, Mexico -- where he's set up a sister gallery -- his stamp lingers in every corner of the show. His work is on skateboards, prints -- and a black 1968 Impala, called the "Muerto Rider," tricked out with swirling scenes and skulls rendered in thick white paint.

Rodriguez also creates linocuts and woodcuts with religious imagery, political edges and impish humor, such as his romantically themed "Ay! Amorcito." But somehow, that his artwork is flanked by warehouses and distribution trucks also seems fitting.

"I love the hand process, the physical aspect of doing this type of art," Rodriguez writes. "Drawing with a knife is a great feeling, even more so than using a pencil or a brush."

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-- Mindy.Farabee@latimes.com

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'LOVE*LIFE*LUST'

WHERE: La Mano Press, 1749 N. Main St., Lincoln Heights

WHEN: Noon-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays;

ends March 15

PRICE: Free

INFO: (323) 227-1275, www.lamanopress.com

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